Gorham School Committee member Phil Gagnon, right, voted against the mask requirement Aug. 11. Robert Lowell / American Journal

All Gorham school staff and students will be required to wear masks when schools reopen later this month, a decision that doesn’t sit well with “half the town,” School Committee Chairperson Darryl Wright said.

Masks are mandated for all to protect against the spread of the coronavirus while inside school buildings and aboard school buses.

A recent School Department parent survey found 418 parents favored requiring masks for all K-12 students. Meanwhile, 310 parents petitioned the School Committee to leave the decision up to individual families.

“Half the town will be upset with us,” Wright said before their School Committee vote Aug. 11.

The School Committee, 6-1, backed Superintendent Heather Perry’s recommendation for a mask mandate for in-person learning based on guidelines from the Maine Department of Education and the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC, citing the “highly contagious delta variant,” recommends masking of all students ages 2 and up, staff and visitors to K-12 schools even if they have been fully vaccinated.

Committee member Phil Gagnon, who attended the meeting without wearing a mask, opposed the requirement.

“I wanted discussion for separating the requirement for the high school,” Gagnon said this week in an email to the American Journal. “A large number of students and staff are vaccinated at the high school.”

High school math teacher and parent Neile Nelson agreed, saying high school students and staff have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

“I do not want a mask mandate at Gorham High School,” Nelson said.

Leah Richards, the parent of elementary and middle school children, questioned whether long-term health issues might result from wearing masks.

“I don’t believe masks should be mandatory,” Richards said.

However, Kelli Deveaux, a Gorham parent, former high school principal in Westbrook and the current communications director at the state education department, said “we’re fighting a virus” and masks make a difference.

“We do have to protect our children, now,” Deveaux said.

Lindsay Paradis, who spearheaded the parents’ petition drive as the parent of two Village Elementary School children, wrote in a letter to Wright that the petition was not about banning masks.

“We are asking that you let our kids be kids and put the decisions back into the hands of the families,” she wrote.

Elementary students Carmella Richards and Tessa Farnham, speaking in tandem from the podium at the meeting, said they opposed a mask mandate. Masks make students feel isolated, and students should decide whether masks are right for them, they said.

School Committee Vice Chairperson Anne Schools said that the board could revisit the mask requirement if the COVID-19 situation changes.

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